Monday, April 30, 2007

"Spider-Man 3" -- * 1/2

After a sequel that easily qualifies as one of the five best superhero movies of all time, Sam Raimi’s "Spider-Man 3" has the distinction of being the first massive disappointment of the summer movie season. But, to paraphrase Brian Posehn, "Spider-Man 3" doesn't just suck compared to the other "Spider-Man" movies, it sucks compared to other movies that suck.

Something about the movie just seems wrong, or at least “off,” right off the bat. In the opening moments, we’re re-introduced to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst, back again) as she’s singing in a Broadway musical that may be the worst pairing of voice and vessel I’ve seen in a movie. Couldn’t Raimi have at least attempted to find a singer whose voice sounded at least a little bit like Dunst’s? For those who enjoy this horrifically, blatantly dubbed song, worry not—there’s another performance coming up later. synopsis: Based on the legendary Marvel Comics series, Peter Parker has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to M.J. and his duties as a superhero. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon. When his suit suddenly changes, turning jet-black and enhancing his powers, it transforms Peter as well, bringing out the dark, vengeful side of his personality that he is struggling to control. Under the influence of the suit, Peter becomes overconfident and starts to neglect the people who care about him most. Forced to choose between the seductive power of the new suit and the compassionate hero he used to be, Peter must overcome his personal demons as two of the most-feared villains yet, Sandman and Venom, gather unparalleled power and a thirst for retribution to threaten Peter and everyone he loves.

The movie actually emulates “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” more than either of its predecessors, utilizing the method of throwing so much at its audience that hopefully they won’t notice the warmed-over content at its core. We’re given about 400 subplots, and no less than three villains, none of whom is entrusted with much screen time or anything particularly interesting to do.

James Franco gets to be The Green Goblin for all of 10 minutes (that one extended fight sequence you saw on NBC) before being knocked out and developing amnesia—yes, amnesia— in the first half hour, and forgetting that he hates Spider-Man. It’s even lamer than it sounds.

Thomas Haden Church (looking especially jacked) attempts to give a real performance as Sandman/Flint Marko, but is hindered at every turn by Raimi’s (1) insistence of having him try to kill Spider-Man for no real reason or motivation and (2) decision to forget about his character for 25 minutes at a time so each time we return to him, we’re reminded “oh right, he’s in this.” Raimi also throws in the out-of-nowhere element of revealing Marko was actually the one who killed Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben, in an apparent attempt to make us care more about his defeat. To be fair, Church tries his best to make Marko an interesting character, and Sandman is integral in one of the two sequences I genuinely enjoyed, reminiscent of both “Godzilla” and the end of the first “Ghostbusters” (the other sequence involves Bruce Campbell’s obligatory cameo, which I won’t spoil).

I can’t claim to be an aficionado of the comics, but if I were, I can’t imagine I’d be satisfied with the lackluster way Venom is handled here. Everything I’ve always heard has indicated to me that Venom was/is a fan favorite, and what most people seem to be anticipating the most about “Spider-Man 3.” However, I checked my watch, and the amount of time from his first appearance to his exit from the film is a full 20 minutes. I wish I could say they were at least a worthy 20 minutes, but it’s just poorly handled all around and feels shoehorned in haphazardly. “Well, the fans have been clamoring for Venom, so let’s make sure we give them him before we finish, just in case there’s not another movie.” All he’s given to do is a capture of Mary Jane extremely similar to the one at the climax of the first film, and some really awkwardly done bits where we still hear Topher Grace’s dorky voice coming out of the jaws of Venom. I almost feel bad for Grace—he could really have made as good, perhaps better, a Spider-Man than Maguire, yet here he’s relegated to a side character (Eddie Brock) given one-dimension and thrown in just as a device to fit Venom into the movie.

Anyone excited at the promise of a “dark” Spider-Man, as indicated by the black spidey suit evident in all the ads, be advised that a dark, sinister Peter Parker consists basically of him turning into an emo kid. Yep, he brushes his hair down to partially cover his face, and is kind of a jerk to Mary Jane at a club. That’s it.

Now, there’s something that must be addressed: the much-discussed dance sequence. After being inhabited/influenced by the symbiote and becoming a swaggering, cocky douchebag, Peter struts down the street ogling various women and shaking his stuff, including some pelvic thrusts and hip gyrations. This leads into said club sequence where Peter shakes his booty all over the dance floor in an arrogant, heavily-choreographed number reminiscent of the Broadway revival of “Chicago.”’s Nick Nunziata (whose writing I’m a big fan of) described this sequence as a moment “where it becomes obvious that all involved parties realize they have nothing else to prove and simply let their figurative hair down and had some fun.” He apparently really enjoyed it (as did a few members of the group I saw the movie with), and I understand his rationale. However, to me, this was the single most excruciating 5-minute chunk of any movie I’ve seen this year. My jaw hung agape, I couldn’t believe what I was watching and I started to grow concerned for the well-being of Sam Raimi.

It’s nearly impossible to ignore that this is a significantly weaker screenplay than the first two films—I’ve read that this was initially two separate scripts, and it shows. There’s just far too much shit tossed in here. Not only is it the weakest script, I’m sorry to say, it’s the first one with numerous bouts of truly laughable dialogue (“You want forgiveness? Get religion!,” says Emo Peter), sequences that will have more than a few self-professed fans groaning (Harry and Mary Jane dancing to “Let’s Twist Again Like We Did Last Summer” while making an omelet together), and patriotism of ridiculous magnitudes (when he makes his triumphant return, Spider-Man appears in front of an American flag without a lick of irony). We’re also given more plot contrivances than I was able to swallow, even for a superhero movie—all I’ll say is the most notable one takes place in a church. Even Parker’s voice-over narration (a lowlight of the first two movies) is at its worst here, and more than a few times I looked around at the audience surrounding me to see if any of them was as baffled/amused as I was—they were not.

Oh, I’ve almost forgotten about Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacey (Peter’s temptation away from Mary Jane), which is somewhat appropriate since the movie does as well. She only registers a few minutes of screen time and makes virtually no impression. Apparently, she’ll get fleshed out and have her eventual death if/when there’s a fourth movie.

The film’s climax, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a four-way fight between our hero(es) and villains—don’t worry, I won’t reveal the results. I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm about it, given how familiar it felt, but in an attempt to put words in the audience’s mouths, Raimi cuts to two little kids in the crowd mid-fight shouting “Awesome” and “Wicked cool.” Wishful thinking, Sam.

Obviously, a lot of people are really looking forward to this, and are going to have their minds made up about loving it before even heading into the theater (I know the group of people I saw it with did), so my opinion is likely going to be in the minority. But I truly wanted to like this thing—I enjoyed the first “Spider-Man,” and “Spider-Man 2” was in my top 10 of 2004. It just seems everyone was given TOO much free reign with this one, and that leaves us with a big, bloated mess of a movie that can’t even deliver on the entertainment front. I realize this is coming from the guy who’s disliked nearly every #1 movie so far this year (“Wild Hogs,” “Norbit”, “Blades of Glory,” “300”), so America and I clearly don’t see eye-to-eye, but mark my words-- when people look back in the annals of film history, they will see “Spider-Man 3” for what it was: crap.

[note: this review was intentionally tangential and overstuffed to accurately represent the movie it was critiquing]


Blogger Piper said...

I'm not surprised by this review and it's a good one.

I was concerned when I saw a trailer that didn't even include The Sandman and I thought "isn't he supposed to be the main bad guy?"

I'm still going to see it because I guess I'm stupid that way.

I completely agree with you that Spiderman 2 was a fantastic movie. I re-watched Spiderman over the weekend and the difference between the two movies is huge. I don't care for the first at all. And I hate to say this, but I think it was too much Raimi on a big scale. And I cringe when I say that because I love Raimi. A little bit too much camp for a such a mainstream movie. But on the second one, Raimi was a master, handling everything and giving the movie some true depth.

In my opinion, Spiderman 3 is the big black suit on Raimi and he'd better get the hell out of it soon and go back to making his type of movie.

11:45 AM  
Blogger cjKennedy said...

Good review.

I'm sorry to say you're absolutely right in this Spidey slam. It was awful. Boring awful. I'm still trying to figure out how so much stuff going on with so many characters could be so dull.

If this is a sign of summer to come, it's going to be a long blockbuster season.

7:32 PM  

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